The Correction Bug

In my family, we have this beautiful, horrible thing called “the correction bug”. Allow me to explain with an exemplar story.

My brother is talking to me and he says, “you do that really good.”

“Well,” I correct him.

Later, we’re talking about a movie line. “Nobody kissed me, did they?

“Actually, it’s please tell me nobody kissed me.”

There is nothing more annoying than the correction bug when you’re on the receiving end, so we have worked hard to rein it in instead of letting it roam free. When someone gets on a roll correcting someone else, either they or the person they are correcting will slap their wrist/arm/shoulder/leg and say “correction bug” to remind that person that it isn’t always wise to correct other people.

Writers tend to get this way when reading other people’s work. We see a tiny mistake and we pick it apart. This can be both good and destructive. We have to be careful to not harm another writer’s feelings or resolve by picking apart everything they just did. On the other hand, it’s good to know that there is the possibility for you to be able to pick apart your own work and make it better.

Another fun part of the correction bug is that you can read or watch something and pick out what you like and how you would have done it. This is fodder for future works. Write it down. If you find yourself saying, “I would have…” then write down how you would have done it. There’s no telling when it will come in handy.

The correction bug is also good for first draft edits. You sit down, you read your work, and you tear it to pieces to fix it. It’s brutal work, and it hurts, but it is necessary. So, correct correct correct! (Anyone else have a flashback to Charlotte’s web here? “Double T, double E, double R, double I, double F, double I, double C”. I love that goose.)

Unfortunately for us, correction is a part of writing. Grammar, plotline, misspellings. I, for one, hate having to cut up the good work I’ve already done. It’s like tearing out my own heart and soul.

So, how do we deal with this?

Well, my first instinct is to sit down — just me — with a giant bundt cake and a fork. Unfortunately, if I did that every time I had to edit, I would be very, very fat. So I set up a reward program for myself (or, at least, I would like to). Here’s the general idea.

Edit first ten pages = piece of chocolate for me.

Edit first half of book = piece of cake/cheesecake or a giant cookie.

Edit all grammar and misspellings = a piece of jewelry for me.

COMPLETELY edit entire manuscript, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and fix all plot holes = BRAND NEW PAIR OF SHOES!!!

I’m not quite there yet, but I do reward myself with varying desserts and it seems to get me over the hump. Editing isn’t quite so menacing anymore. In fact, sometimes I actually (gulp) enjoy it.

So, even though the correction bug can be a bad thing when used too much, it can be a good thing for our writing. Keep it in its container until the time is right to let it out. (Kind of like those caterpillars you used to catch that never actually made it to butterfly stage).

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Need help editing or have questions about how it should be done? Comment or contact me! I’m giving out free advice this week.

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

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What Did You (Really) Say?

Ah, miscommunication. It’s the heart and soul of conflict.

I chose this topic for this week because I’ve been reading this book (The Fire In Ember by DiAnn Mills) wherein all could be solved if they would just COMMUNICATE!!! But, you know what? I love it.

So, how do we build a world around our characters where they don’t communicate perfectly? And why not have them communicate well?

Everyone has a reason to lie about something. Yes, even you. Think about it. There is always one memory, one embarrassing moment, one part of your most personal feelings that you CANNOT express, even when you need to. This often leads to miscommunication.

If our characters are to be real, then they will miscommunicate. They’ll leave things out (important things), lie to each other to cover up a painful memory. All these things lend to A) Backstory and B) Conflict.

Think on this: If you haven’t told someone an important piece of information, how can you expect them to understand your ations?

If you haven’t told someone you love them, how do you expect them to know and reciprocate your feelings?

If you (or your character) hasn’t told someone that they’re scared for their life because an evil person is chasing them down for the fun of it, HOW IS ANYONE SUPPOSED TO HELP???

People miscommunicate by NOT communicating a lot of times.

Example: Guy sees girl (or vice versa) in a situation that, to them, looks like cheating or criminal behavior. Guy/girl doesn’t go to ask the other one what happened, just assumes they were in the wrong. Relationship suffers greatly.

If that character had just asked what happened, they would have realized the guy/girl was being threatened/played/taken advantage of. And when they finally do realize this (as they should to settle the conflict), they’ll kick themselves and possibly want to go shoot someone.

As humans, our biggest strength and greatest weakness is communication. Therefore, believable characters should have both strength and weaknesses in their social and communication skills.

Some examples:

In the movie Love Comes Softly, it isn’t so much miscommunication as it is failed communication. Marty doesn’t want to leave, but she doesn’t want to stay if Clark doesn’t want her, so she leaves a note in his Bible that doesn’t end up in front of his face. Because it was a stupid idea to slide the note into the book where it can (and did) fall out, Marty thinks he doesn’t want her. SO not the case!

In The Fire In Ember (DiAnn Mills, copyright 2011) the main character has been fed lies all her life. She’s too scared to really communicate why and she doesn’t think she’s worthy of anything. So, instead of telling people what she knows and getting help, she clams up.

A lot of stories depend on miscommunication to run longer than twenty minutes (for movies) or 50 pages (for books). Without something to figure out, we’d have no conflict. And we all know we LOVE conflict. We love watching the characters duke it out or shout it out and we love to see the bad guy get beat. (Except in the rare cases involving fandoms with crazy people who think the villain should have won.)

So, miscommunication. Use it. Love it. Keep it close.

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

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The Art of Illusion

You’ll hear me talk A LOT about how much more powerful it is to elude to something than to tell it straight out. To me, it’s almost as important as “Show, Don’t Tell” and quite honestly it’s probably technically covered in that statement. However, it seems some people just don’t quite get it. So let’s expound.

“The closer you look, the less you’ll see” is the theme of a fun little movie called Now You See Me. Most magicians use this trick. Why? Because it works. Magic is all about the art of illusion, and how do people refer to the best books and movies?

“It was magical.”

So let’s take the magician’s theme and apply it to ourselves, writers. There are several different things that demand a “far away” look when we’re writing. I’ll break them down for you and explain what I mean by “far away look”.

#1 – Character descriptions.

You know you’ve read an over expository character description before. “She had hair like… and eyes like… her teeth were… and her ears… don’t forget her hands… did I mention the exact clothes she was wearing?…” And suddenly we feel trapped inside a box. That’s not AT ALL how we pictured her (whoever she is).

When I write, I tend to give one or two traits of my character and leave the rest up to imagination. I’ve found I like this from other authors, which is why I try to follow their lead in my own writing. For example: my character Rosie Callahan, I only told the reader 2 things about her physical appearance. She’s 5’2″ and she has curly hair. I left the rest up to them.

I think you’ll find that if you stick to the important things about the character, like how they react to others and what kind of speech patterns they use, people will fill in the physical description without much help.

#2 – Back Story

I’m not saying don’t tell people what happened in the past, I’m saying expose it slowly. Have the character say something or do something that ELUDES to their backstory. They had a convict dad?

“I won’t be like him.”

Simple as that. And, yes, I’ve used that one. Another one I’ve used: The girl has a history of people leaving her without a word.

“Just… don’t leave without saying goodbye. Okay?”

Think through what your characters are doing. They deserve the thought it takes to weave their backstory in and out through their actions and words.

TIP: you have a backstory too, but you don’t tell everyone you meet. Everything that happened in the past is your backstory, and it reflects itself in what you do and say now, but not in an expository way. It is what it is, and nothing more. You don’t make a big deal about it. So why do your characters whine on and on about their past?

#3 – Relationships

This REALLY goes along with “Show, Don’t Tell”. The best advice I ever received on this subject was “loving someone means never having to say I love you.” SHOW that your characters love each other, or hate each other, or have known each other for a long time by what they do and say.

This all goes back to illusion. With vague answers and short flashes into the backstory, you’re giving the illusion of a full life behind the character, which in turn brings them to life. Why go into all that exposition when you can achieve the same thing by a simple flick of the wrist?

Remember, the closer you look, the less you’ll see.

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

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Let’s Talk Plot…

Plot. The heart of story. The lifeblood of any good book. Or movie. Plot is vitally important to the forward propulsion of the known universe. Without plot, the entire entertainment world would cease to exist. Books, movies, songs…

You get the point. Plot is important. Very important. But, what makes up plot?

I’m so glad you asked!

Plot can technically be broken down into 2 parts: Rising action and falling action. However, I never did like to fit into the cookie-cutter writing mold, so my favorite way to explain it contains several key points in the story. 5 to be exact.

Inciting incident. Turning Point. Point of no return. Crisis. Showdown. (Bonus 6th: Wrap-up.)

So, what I plan on doing today is to walk you through a successful plot piece by piece. Don’t worry, I’ll explain how each piece of the puzzle fits.

Inciting Incident:

First, let me tell you what this literally means. Incite = to encourage or stir up. Incident = an event or occurrence.

So, the Inciting Incident is literally an event that stirs things up. It’s the part of the story (generally very, very close to the beginning) where everything is tipped off balance. It is what makes the character(s) have to go on that quest. The event that changes everything.

The inciting incident in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is introduced in the first pages. “My dear Mr. Bennett, have you heard the Netherfield Hall is let at last?” (It’s paragraph 3, people. That woman knew how to throw you in at the exact moment everything changes.)

This is most definitely the inciting incident because it is the moment we know something different happened in their life. Before this sentence, they were just minding their own business, going about their own life. After this sentence, Mrs. Bennett spends the entire book talking about Netherfield and Mr. Bingley. (Anyone who doesn’t know what happens at the end of this book is not a true book nerd.)

In the hilarious and widely popular movie The Princess Bride, the inciting incident is a little farther in, but not much. Did you guess it? Yep, the inciting incident is when Buttercup hears that Westley has been killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts. (Eek! Not the Dread Pirate Roberts! No, he can’t die! Is this a tragedy? But, I digress…)

Turning Point

 This is usually my favorite part (I will say this a lot, don’t pay attention. My favorite part changes from hour to hour) of the story. This is when everything turns upside down. The unthinkable happens! Suddenly, there is no choice but to set out on the journey that will propel us to the end of the story. Something has to be done.

A good example of an epic turning point can be found in the movie National Treasure. The turning point comes the instant Ian declares he is going to “borrow” the Declaration of Independence and then proceeds to accidentally blow up the Charlotte.

Turning point? I think yes. That is the very moment that Ben Gates knows he has to do something. He can’t let Ian steal the Declaration! It propels him to begin his epic journey/continue his treasure hunt. It ups the stakes. That, my friends, is what a turning point does.

Point of No Return

Sounds pretty ominous, right? It is.

The Point of No Return comes usually about halfway through the story. This is literally what it says it is. A point where something happens that won’t allow the character to go back to where he/she was before. It makes them change and forces them to finish what they’ve started, even if they don’t want to. They no longer have a choice.

In my novel, Rose-Colored Glasses, the point of no return is when someone starts to meticulously target the main character (Rosie Callahan). The second main character/love interest knows that he can’t back out. He has to help her. He no longer has an option to leave or to let it go.

Same thing with one of my favorite movies, Next. The instant the government and the villains pull the love of his life into their twisted schemes is the instant that Cris Johnson decides he can’t NOT help the government. His point of no return is that he refuses to endanger the woman he loves.

Crisis

Pretty self-explanatory. Crisis. A point when all is lost.

This is usually achieved when everything has gone wrong. The plan has backfired, the bad guys are hot on the main character’s trail, and the love interest usually hates him. The world seems upside down and you’re actually afraid this character might not come out of this.

Then, right as that first tear builds in your left eye, something else terrible happens. Something that you never expected. Yet another aspect of the story goes completely berserk! Someone dies, or is kidnapped. The main character has an emotional break. SOMETHING! And you just want to scream at the page. Or the screen.

This is a crisis.

Showdown

Showdown is what people usually call a climax. The final battle.

This is when Thor faces Loki in Thor. It’s when Emma and Mr. Knightley finally communicate in Jane Austen’s Emma. Any time someone is finally getting somewhere, through words or fisticuffs, and it’s the most intense part of the book or movie, it is definitely the showdown. This is where everything will be resolved. Where someone determines whether this story is a tragedy, or if it has a happy ending.

Showdown demands an element of suspense. It demands intensity. And it should always be rewarding to your readers/watchers.

Bonus 6th: Wrap-up

Where we resolve all our storylines and write “they lived happily ever after”. The wrap-up is essential for a good read. If you don’t wrap it up, people will feel like you ripped them off. Let them know what happens, and they’ll thank you.

The only exception to the rule? When you’re writing a series or sequel, it’s okay to let a few storylines hang open, so that you can use them later on. Still, wrap up as much as you can and your fans will thank you later.

And this is PLOT.

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

A Compelling Story

Have you ever read a book you literally CANNOT put down? How about a movie during which you refuse to budge from your seat, because you don’t want to miss something? Have you ever noticed how it seems to take so little to make a fan out of you? Books and movies like this generate tons of fans because of one very specific thing.

They have a compelling story.

If you’re a writer, you know that everything I’m about to say in this paragraph is true. You’ve read “that” book, and you’ve seen “that” movie. You know the ones I’m talking about. You think to yourself “I can never write something as good as that! Listen to that dialogue! Look at those descriptions! Nope. I’ll never be that good.”

I have good news and more good news for you. The very fact that you want to write something that good means you care. And if you care, maybe a reader will too. The second piece of good news is that you CAN write a compelling story. All you need are a few simple tools.

TOOL #1 – Strong Plotline

What is a strong plotline, you ask? Let me explain a thing.

Plot (or “plotline”) is simply your story itself. It is “Once upon a time…”, “The End”, and everything in between. It is “Fade In”, “Roll credits”, and everything in between that, too. Plot is story, and if you don’t have a strong plot, you’re in deep trouble.

A strong plot consists of a beginning, a middle, and an end. Beginning consists of your set up and inciting incident (more on this later). Middle consists of everything that moves your hero/heroine toward the climax. Middle is a freight train pushing your hero/heroine farther than they ever wanted to go and bringing them situations they should not reasonably recover from. End is your darkest point, through the climax, and into the wrap-up. I have found that the easiest way to divide these is as follows: 1/4 beginning, 2/4 middle, 3/4 end.

(NOTE: If you are writing a novel, it’s easiest to go by word count. Say you’re writing a 60,000 word novel. That makes it a 15,000 word beginning, 30,000 word middle, and another 15,000 words for the end. Screenplays go by pages. A typical Screenplay is approximately 120 pages. Therefore… 30 page beginning, 60 page middle, 30 page end. Got it? Good!)

TOOL #2 – Strong Characters

Let’s face it. If you don’t have a character that people love (or love to hate), then you’re already dead in the water. People read books because they care what happens to the people. Yes, plot is important, but without strong characters your story won’t go anywhere.

For me, strong characters are flawed characters. Also known as relatable characters.

For the sake of sanity, let’s take some notes from those crazy, wacky Tumblr groups known as FANDOMS!!! (*gasp*! NOOOO! NOT THE CRAZY PEOPLE!)

Yes, the crazy people. Think about it. Why are they crazy? Because they love those characters (or that one character) and they have to tell the world about it. They love them so much that they write their own stories to move the character forward. They literally put that character in their own life. And those villains? Oh, yeah, they have split followings. People either want to marry them or want to kill them.

So, what makes these crazy people fall in love with the characters?

They’re flawed. They have issues, and quirks, and they don’t get along with everyone, and people can relate to that.

(More of character development and how to write flawed characters is coming in the following weeks)

TOOL #3 – Passion

Honestly, this is the third and greatest essential tool you need. Without passion for your story, you’ll never finish it. You’ll start and let it die. So be sure you are passionate before you begin.

How do you know if you’re passionate about it?

Do you think about this story day and night? Does everything you see, experience, or read correlate back to it? Do you see your characters in fashion photos and your setting in travel guides?

If you answered yes to any of these, you are passionate about your story. Don’t give it up. Keep moving, keep writing, keep dreaming. The world needs more dreamers, and the world needs your book.

You are the only one who can write your book, your way. Don’t let it go.

Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.